Editor-At-Large: Janet Street-Porter

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The Independent Online

I write this sitting in a hotel room in out-of-season Barbados with rain sheeting down, my thought processes punctuated by flashes of lightning and distant booms of thunder. At this time of year, many Caribbean resorts are virtually empty. The season doesn't really start until mid- October. But already cancellations are trickling in, and the locals have more than inclement weather to worry about.

I write this sitting in a hotel room in out-of-season Barbados with rain sheeting down, my thought processes punctuated by flashes of lightning and distant booms of thunder. At this time of year, many Caribbean resorts are virtually empty. The season doesn't really start until mid- October. But already cancellations are trickling in, and the locals have more than inclement weather to worry about.

The events of 11 September have had a ripple effect which is now touching even the remotest parts of the world. President Bush has urged people to spend money again and boost the nation's confidence as well as the economy. But in the Caribbean, many islands have economies tied to tourism and the US dollar. At the moment they face an uncertain winter, and every time an airline announces that it's cutting routes and laying people off, so the people of Grenada, Barbados and Jamaica realise that they will lose jobs.

A few years ago at the BBC, I commissioned a series presented by Clive Anderson entitled Our Man In, in which he visited various spots around the globe generally considered to be paradise. Once there, Clive spent time looking at the reality behind the glamorous, sun-drenched facade.

One spot was the Caribbean island of Dominica, where the locals resolutely stuck to growing bananas even though almost anything would grow in their fertile volcanic soil. With cheaper bananas coming out of South America, the Dominican economy was in chaos, and the result was a trade war between Britain and America which plagued our cashmere and scotch industries.

Another was Goa, where Clive saw how the influx of newly built luxury beach hotels (with golf courses) was taking all the water from small local farmers. Their livelihood was being sacrificed to tourism.

Since that series I have chaired debates and thought long and hard about the up and down sides of tourism. As we have seen during the past few months in Britain, tourism is a huge and central part of our economy, and the Government seemed slow to protect and nurture it during the ongoing foot and mouth crisis, favouring the emotional pleas of the farmers and their anti-vaccination lobby over hoteliers nearing bankruptcy.

Now the current "war on terrorism" will have an equally detrimental effect on tourism both in the UK and abroad. So it's worth entering a plea for tourism. Yes, there are places which have been destroyed for ever by development, but let's not forget the countries which depend on it.

Read the glossy magazine Caribbean Property, which features developments from condominiums to tennis hotels, and you'd get the impression that one group of people won't be happy until every beachside lot is concreted over and covered in quasi-Mediterranean-style whitewashed villas with azure pools and huge garages. In 10 years' time will there be any stretch of white sand left in the world that does not have a beach bar, a load of windsurfing equipment and an over-priced cafe selling burgers and Coke?

Over the past 15 years I've spent a lot of time travelling round the Caribbean, visiting the places that generally get forgotten - either because their beaches are too rough or because they require small plane trips or rough boat rides to get there. In St Vincent I slept in a tent and climbed the volcano. It's a place visited only by yachties refuelling en route to Bequia or Mustique, and by relatives returning home from the UK and America. On St Eustatius I swam on deserted beaches. Under the waves lay dozens of wrecks - ships which once carried slaves from Africa, where they had been traded for blue glass beads. I've walked along miles of empty shore in Trinidad and seen giant lizards on Terre de Haute off Guadeloupe.

So I make a plea for tourism, because it brings vital income to places that have no other way of earning money, whether it's Dartmoor, the Highlands or Barbados. But perhaps the current crisis will see an end to the building of all-inclusive resorts, those giant concrete monstrosities where no one leaves the compound and no money ends up in the pockets of the locals. Maybe now people will start to think more carefully about the tourism industry and see a way for it to develop in the future in a smaller, more eco-friendly way. Perhaps we need to learn to be more adventurous and less passive in our expectations.

And while we're about it, can we also place a world ban on the use of Balinese motifs in resort hotels? What is it about over-sized square canvas umbrellas, teak sun-loungers and dark wooden chests that make them so appealing to hoteliers the world over? It's bad enough facing Thai fish cakes in every fashionable restaurant from Minneapolis to Manchester, but when I see identical chairs in Kensington and Ocho Rios, then I realise that the world has become a worryingly small place.

For the rich, familiarity doesn't breed contempt. It just fosters reassurance. You can get exactly the same Louis Vuitton bag in Nice, Honolulu or Los Angeles. And your peer group will know exactly how much you spent on it. You can visit a resort hotel in Morocco and it will be decorated in exactly the same way as its sister branch in Thailand. Depressing, isn't it, especially, when you're paying pounds 600 a day. I think I'll stick to St Vincent and my eco-tent with its outdoor solar-powered shower.

Addicted to words

These days we all know people who have given up something. At dinner the other night the members of AA and NA outnumbered the rest of us guilty wine-swiggers. It seems that a whole new social grouping has emerged: the Post-Rehab Generation. They are easy in each other's company, call each other for support and get together at Meetings (the confessional kind) at least once a week. I don't exactly feel excluded, but at times it does appear that a new form of Freemasonry has arisen for the 21st century.

I now have an addiction I am ready and willing to give up too. It's called computer Scrabble and involves spending hours hunched over a keyboard competing against an electronic genius called Maven. An evil friend gave me the CD-Rom last year, but it was only with the arrival of my new portable iBook a month ago that the compulsion finally began to take me over. Now I play up to two hours a day and nothing can compare with that rush of joy when I beat Maven, now set at Advanced level.

Only Championship level remains a distant (let's say very distant) dream. My scores have gradually been creeping up to well over 350 a game - nothing to be ashamed of. But I hate Maven with a passion. Occasionally he plays stupid four-letter words leaving the triple-word tiles exposed for me to rush in and fill. But a couple of moves later he chucks down two seven- letter words in a row plunging me into tortured despair.

Scrabble has been an intermittent addiction throughout my life. I went to Kenya for a week with a rock-guitarist boyfriend more than a decade ago and never left our hotel balcony, playing 14 hours a day with meal breaks. On the last day he tossed the set in the sand claiming it was "cursed" because I won by 10 games on aggregate. I have played with Charles Saatchi on and off over the years, and even took a couple of hundred pounds off him recently. But in truth, he's a brilliant player who was just suffering a bad blip that day. When I first met financier and multi-millionaire Michael Bloomberg (now running for the Republican mayoral nomination in New York), he suggested a Scrabble evening. "Forget it!" I rudely bellowed. "You guys in the City don't know any multi-syllable words." Chastened, he went home clutching a piece of paper with AMANUENSIS and QUIXOTIC on it. Astonishingly, we are still speaking.

So I admit that Scrabble breeds a special kind of bossy, over-bearing bore, and even if I was like that before, my current addiction has made me worse. Scrabble nuts treat each other disgracefully. Once I lay in hospital, recovering from a disc operation. A fellow Scrabbler visited, briefly commiserated and then tossed down the latest issue of the Scrabbler magazine. I was on heavy-duty painkillers, but as he left he said, "I've got a copy too, so let's just start puzzle number 12 and the winner can call the loser." Soon I had a migraine to add to my other pains.

Between battles with Maven I've been reading the latest Scrabble best seller in America, Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis, the story of how he went from being a reporter on the Wall Street Journal to a star in the world of championship Scrabble. Don't bother with this dreary book, with its drab hotel rooms and nutty characters. It's full of words and tips that drove me mad, written in a charmless patronising way. Now, apparently, they are to film it. I shall be locked in a darkened room discussing how to disentangle myself from the seductive charms of Maven with other members of SA - Scrabblers Anonymous.